tv Forensic Files CNN February 7, 2015 10:30pm-11:01pm PST
in front of green haven prison, a reminder of donna payant's brutal murder. a murder experts say could and should have been prevented. this is the story of two crimes committed in different states, 500 miles apart. in each case a woman was assaulted late at night. investigators found the same signature elements in both claims. the calling card of this perpetrator was so unusual it eventually cost him his life.
perth amboy, new jersey about an hour's drive from the hustle and bustle of new york city. for 300 years this riverfront town has been a haven for immigrants seeking a better life in america. melissa padilla's parents came from puerto rico. she and her four brothers grew up here. >> yeah. she was my right hand. she was always helping me with them. she was like a second mother to them. they depend on her. >> melissa attended high school in perth amboy but quit in her junior year and later became pregnant. she had three more children in rapid succession and in 1994 was unmarried and supporting herself and the children with a monthly welfare check. >> she didn't have any technical skills or something that would demand a high-paying job.
she would have to settle for minimum wage, and there was no way she was going to make it with that. >> melissa was able to scrape by for a while, but then she fell behind on her rent and lost her apartment. melissa and her children then moved into the gem motel, one of several cheap motels located along route 1. a main north-south artery in avanell, new jersey. on the night of august 11th, 1994, melissa left the children with her boyfriend and walked to a nearby convenience store for some groceries. >> she went out at 11:00 at night because her kids were hungry. >> melissa left the store around 11:30 and headed back to the motel, but she never arrived.
her boyfriend told police he found her half naked body later that night along the highway. melissa's mother got the word shortly after the body was discovered. >> you're not supposed to bury your childrens. i was supposed to go before her. >> most murderers go to great lengths to avoid detection. melissa's killer didn't seem to care, committing his crime along a busy highway where he could have been easily seen. it was this brazenness that would eventually be his downfall. the cat hair is so constant, cait's likeand bear. it's growing out of the floor. it drives me crazy. can we do something about this? (doorbell) woah. it's a swiffer sweeper. it's working like a magnet. ohhh! shed all you like, wolf.
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when melissa padilla left her motel room to buy food for her young children, her route took her along a well-traveled highway to a nearby convenience store. melissa never returned. her boyfriend told police he found her body in a sewer pipe near the highway. she was naked from the waist down. >> the autopsy revealed she died
as a result of the manual asphyxiation and assault. >> there were several grocery items near the body as well as melissa's blood-spattered shorts found nearly a block away with the pocket turned out. but the most telling evidence came from melissa's body itself. >> her eyes were battered, indicating that she had received punches from someone who was strong and who subdued her in that way. the fact that she was naked and her genital area was mutilated obviously indicated there was a sexual assault. >> scrapings from under her fingernails revealed dna that authorities hoped would bring a conviction if they could only find a suspect. melissa's autopsy revealed one other detail. something tom kapsak had never seen in his 31 years of
prosecuting homicides. >> she had bite marks on her chin and on her left breast, indicating there was probably some kind of ritualistic element to the killing. >> the bite mark on the chin was particularly unusual. >> bite marks usually occur to the genital areas, to the breast, to the stomach, but i have never heard of one that occurred to the chin before. >> armed with this evidence, new jersey police began their search for melissa's killer. the security video from the quickcheck store, where melissa had bought groceries, helped establish the time of the murder shortly before midnight. it also showed the cashier giving her change. but no money was found in melissa's clothing, indicating she had also been robbed. police also began canvassing the area looking for eyewitnesses.
>> there was a witness that was identified, that was interviewed, who indicated they were traveling past the roadway and saw what appeared to be two individuals in some sort of struggle. standing up near the concrete pipes. >> but the witness could provide little useful information. the battering about melissa's face and the bite marks on her breast and chin gave authorities the idea that her killer got a perverse thrill from assaulting women and might have struck before. just a mile from the murder scene was a prison for convicted sex offenders. a check of prison records showed a number of released prisoners living in the area. >> we then pulled their files to determine what their m.o. was and whether they were involved in any kind of ritual when they committed their sex crimes. >> they complied with requests for dna samples.
they complied with exemplar requests for hairs. they also submitted to polygraph examinations that were conducted by the woodbridge police department. and they all were eliminated as suspects in the crime. >> melissa's boyfriend, who had stayed with her children, was also eliminated. >> eventually, things started to appear that we have an unsolved homicide with no suspect to pursue. >> eight months later, 500 miles away in maine, there was another assault strikingly similar to melissa padilla's. this crime was bold and brazen, but the perpetrator made a mistake in choosing his victim. she was a state trooper. ready for another reason to switch to t-mobile.
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and might strike again. eight months later, state troopers in maine reported a brazen assault on one of their own. the assault took place on april 3rd, 1995, at about 8:30 p.m. trooper vicki gardner, an 11-year veteran, was off duty and driving her police cruiser south on interstate 95. >> she came across a vehicle facing the wrong way on the interstate, and she stopped to investigate. >> excuse me, sir. are you okay? >> yes, i'm just sleeping. >> gardner discovered that the driver, steven fortin, had been drinking. since she was off duty, she called for another police vehicle to take fortin into custody. >> could you send some backup? >> when fortin heard this, he exploded. >> fortin sucker-punched her,
ripped her clothes off, molested her. in the process of molesting her he bit her. when the backup cruiser arrived, he took off in the cruiser. >> vicki gardner was unconscious still in the vehicle. when she regained consciousness, she opened the passenger door and tried to jump out. >> he was sort of trying to reach out and grab a hold of her and pull her back in, and she swung herself away from him and got away from him. >> vicki gardner was lucky to be alive. >> i've never seen a woman attacked that way, damaged that badly, who lived to talk about it. >> after vicki jumped out of the vehicle, fortin lost control of the car and crashed. he was later apprehended. lieutenant lancaster interviewed him in prison. >> he took no responsibility. it was while we spoke -- though we spoke of the incident, it was
always somebody else's fault. he -- i knew that i was dealing with someone that was evil. >> vicki had scrapes and bruises over her entire body, and her face was severely battered. fortin had not only punched and assaulted her, he had also left a bizarre calling card. two bite marks. one on the outer area of her left breast. the other on her chin. >> you just know from the facts of this case and the way in which the assault took place, every aspect about it, you knew you were dealing with someone who had done something like this before. >> in fact, a check of police records in fortin's home state of new jersey revealed that he had a history of violence. fortin's name was well known to prosecutor kapsak. he had sent him to prison for
seven years on a manslaughter charge. fortin got out after only 2 1/2 years. >> he had stabbed his brother in the throat in 1983 in the township of carteret. and was -- pled guilty to that. >> when the new jersey state police heard the news of steve fortin's assault in maine, they naturally wanted to find out if fortin was in new jersey on the night melissa padilla was killed. an interview with fortin's former girlfriend provided the answer. >> and she told us that in august of 1994 steven fortin did, in fact, live in avenel, new jersey. in fact, he lived in an apartment with her. and on the very night in question, he assaulted her in the parking lot of a restaurant and she called the police and he ran. >> that restaurant, bud's hut, was a short walk from the gem
motel where melissa was living. the police report listed the time of the assault on dawn archer as 10:30 p.m., an hour before melissa was murdered. at last authorities had a suspect. melissa's brother got the word a day after his birthday. >> i didn't consider it a birthday gift, but i was glad that they did find him. and i was praying they would find him before he could ever do that to someone else. >> they found him, but now they had to prove him guilty. prosecutors hoped the dna evidence taken from under melissa's fingernails would incriminate fortin, but it didn't. >> when it was compared to steven fortin from maine's evidence that we obtained from them, the dna lab could not include or exclude him as a source. >> with the dna results inconclusive, the bite marks on
the two victims seemed to be prosecutors' best chance of linking fortin to melissa padilla's murder. a plaster impression was therefore made on fortin's teeth. the impression along with photographs of the bite marks were sent to dr. lowell levine a respected forensic odontologist who worked for new york state police. >> these are mr. fortin's teeth or actually models of them and they're made the same way as the orthodontist would take models or the dentist takes models to do prosthetic devices. >> levine compared fortin's teeth to the bite marks on vicki gardner and melissa padilla. he found them to be a match. leaving nothing to chance, prosecutors also brought in roy hazelwood, a former fbi profiler and an expert on criminal behavior.
>> he was interested in my studying the crimes to determine whether or not i could do a linkage analysis in the two crimes. a linkage analysis is an in-depth study of two or more crimes with the idea of attempting to determine whether or not they were committed by the same person. >> hazelwood concluded that the same man had, indeed, committed both crimes. the trial of steven fortin began on october 31st, 2000. a trial with no eyewitnesses, circumstantial evidence and inconclusive dna findings. the prosecutor's case rested almost entirely on the opinions of two forensic experts. dentures with toothpaste or plain water. and even though their dentures look clean, in reality they're not. if a denture were to be put under a microscope, we can see all the bacteria that still exists on the denture,
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[whispering] because i have responsibilities. ...i mean that's really interesting, then how do you explain these photos?! [people gasping] objection your honor. sustained. with the x1 dvr library you could take anywhere, xfinity is perfect for people on the go. the murder of melissa padilla and the assault of a maine state trooper were so strikingly similar that this became a critical part of the prosecution's case. at steven fortin's trial maine state trooper vicki gardner took the stand to describe how fortin had beaten and sexually assaulted her. >> then we had to bring in
witnesses that brought the two crimes together, and they were hazelwood and levine. >> addressing the jury, roy hazelwood explained that some crimes like the murder of melissa padilla and the assault of trooper gardner have unique patterns of behavior which he called rituals. >> the ritual are those acts which are unnecessary to the commission of the crime and are carried out to meet the emotional needs of the offender. >> in this case the need for psychosexual gratification. hazelwood identified five examples of ritualistic behavior that were common to both cases. >> bite mark to the chin. bite mark to the left breast. excessive battering to the upper portion of the face in both instances. injurious anal penetration and manual strangulation from the front. i've never seen that combination
of behaviors in any other crime. >> then dr. levine explained to the jury that no two people have teeth patterns that are exactly the same. >> what i basically did was to show the jurors that people leave bite marks that look different. we used two of the prosecutors, myself and one of the investigators. so that bite marks look different. >> dr. levine showed the jury overlays of steve fortin's teeth. >> we were able to show the jury how the overlays fit over the life sized photographs of the bite mark on the victim. we did it by animating the overlay so that it moves across the screen and stops exactly on the bite mark and it was very effective and it was very dramatic and i think it worked very well. >> new jersey authorities are
coming -- >> the jury deliberated steven fortin's fate for two days before reaching their verdict. guilty. in the penalty phase prosecutors asked for the death sentence and concluded by explaining to the jury why fortin had bitten his victims on the chin. >> what we finally decided regarding the bite mark to the chin was that steven fortin was biting the victim on the chin while he was looking in her eyes and mutilating her genitals. and that he was getting a perverse pleasure out of that. >> on february 26, 2001, fortin was sentenced to die by lethal injection. >> it was justice but i didn't feel like a vengeance. that justice should have been served, you know. i was grateful. >> roy hazelwood and lowell levine were absolutely critical to the case.
this case like most murder cases depended on circumstantial evidence, on forensic evidence, on expert testimony. >> i'm continuously amazed at the strides we've made in investigating crimes and solving crimes and prosecuting crimes. >> melissa padilla's sons are living with their father. her daughters are being raised by melissa's mom. >> she was a good mother. good sister. good friend. she was a wonderful daughter. >> she was a good person. had a big heart. and i'm sorry her kids won't be able to know that.